Freelancing: How to Find Clients/Work

This is a big topic, and honestly, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Here are some tips I’ve found that have worked for me, or that I’ve heard working for others, but please let me know if I’ve missed something crucial!

Networking

As with most everything I’ve talked about so far, networking is the most reliable way to get new work as a freelancer; but again, I don’t mean just throwing cards to whoever walks by. It’s crucial to develop strong networks of people who are in your industry, people who use your services, and experts and mentors in your field and adjacent fields, as it’s these networks that may lead to opportunities being sent your way. However, please don’t build your network with the sole intention to get work—build your network to learn from others, to teach what you know, and to find compatriots with whom to share successes and to compare rates, employers, and general industry trends. Your network is your professional base, and can take the place of coworkers as a freelancer. Value these people as your friends and VIPs, as in freelance more than anywhere else they will influence the future opportunities you receive. After all, freelancers generally pass work along to those who they trust to handle overflow from their own clients, and stake their name on sending you as a recommendation. Good standing in freelance networks is everything.

Industry events

These are crucial for building your network. As always, I recommend volunteering—this gives you the opportunity to organically meet new people (including crucial people!) in your industry, for them to see you at work (even though your volunteer work may not be your day-to-day job), and for them to associate you with responsibility. Of course, “volunteering as exposure” is a dangerous road. Only volunteer for organizations or conferences which have a demonstrated record of good work and whose mission you support. A great volunteer strategy I heard about the other day is to still invoice for any work you do (this is intended for, say, graphic design work—not for volunteering at a conference in exchange for an attendee badge) and to “discount” your official rate so the invoice zeroes out. Not only does this let others know your real working rates and are aware of what they’re getting for free, but it gives you firmer ground to stand upon when you are being asked too much, or when you want to start charging for the same work.  And as a freelancer, one of the first things you should develop is an invoice template. We’ll go into this next time.

Previous Jobs

Many companies rely on freelancers to deal with work overflow, and who better to ask than someone who already knows how to do the work? When leaving a job (if you want to continue working with the company (and aren’t being terminated)), let your manager know you’d still be interested in doing some freelance work. You can always reach out to companies you worked for years before, as long as you left on good terms. Keep in mind that the longer ago the job was for you, the more likely procedures and processes have changed, but some companies may be willing to bring you in and bring you up to speed with some (paid!) training. After all, it will be cheaper for them to train someone who knows most everything than to find and train an unknown quantity.

Industry-oriented sites

I suggest these with a huge grain of salt: Many internet forums and databases for freelancers can be rife with predatory clients, and with fellow freelancers based worldwide who may be able to work for cheaper than you can compete with. That being said, good clients can still be found on these sites. Do some Googling and ask around your network to find the appropriate sites for your industry, and to ask how they work—best practices for applying for jobs, posting, etc. And if you do find a good client through one of these sites, make sure to follow up with them after the job is done to ask if they’ll keep you on their roster and keep you in mind for future work. If they offer feedback, take it—people rarely take the effort to give feedback if they don’t think you’re able to improve.

Social media

This one is risky, so again, take the big grain of salt. By posting your portfolio and rates on social media, and by posting your expertise and engaging with others when possible, you can broaden your reach and find clients through Twitter, Instagram, and especially (for some industries) LinkedIn. Building your organic network is still your priority on these sites, but you may find work coming your way through them, too.


No matter which method you use, remember that vetting your clients is a crucial step. Make sure they know your rates beforehand, and that you establish a pay schedule that works for both parties.

The Job Search: Your Portfolio

Okay, creatives — this time, I’m looking at you. And I’m not just talking about visual artists, videographers, musicians…no. Anyone who has a body of work that they’ve done creatively, from white papers, lectures, online courses, or infographics, should have a place where their work is featured online.

I’m talking, of course, about the portfolio.

There are plenty of ways to format your portfolio, but the baseline is this:

Feature your best creative work in one, easy-to-use, easy-to search hub.

The idea is to make it easy for potential employers to find your work and hire you based on what you have featured. It should go to a permanent link that you can include on your resume, digital job applications, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, and in the signature of your emails. The fewer clicks someone has to go through to find it, the better.

Profile the work that exemplifies the work you want to be doing.

If you want to be doing sequential work, feature sequential pages you’ve done in the past, in order of how much you like them. If you’re a musician, do the same with your demos. You can always rank your work depending on what you think others will like, but committing to your preference early will help you to get the work you enjoy and work you’re proud of, not just work-for-hire in a style that isn’t yours. By being intentional about the work you want to be doing, you can more easily find the clients who will be interested in that work, too.

At a bare minimum, your portfolio needs to include the following:

  • Your contact information (and how you prefer to be contacted)
    • Even better: Also include a timeframe in which you will respond to inquiries. This can save you a ton of headaches and emails, and gives you some breathing space when responding to potential jobs.
  • Your brand
    • Use the same avatar/icon you use on other social media, and choose a color scheme that looks good and represents you! This will reassure clients and potential employers that it is, in fact, your site, and they’ve found the portfolio they’re looking for.
  • Your work
    • Duh, right? Make sure it’s:
      • Easy to access
        • This is the most important part of your portfolio, so don’t hide it away! Make sure it’s easy to find and loads quickly.
      • Easy to scroll through
        • You don’t want to make someone click in and out of separate images. Make sure everything follows logically, and is formatted so someone can quickly go from one piece to the next.
      • Working as intended
        • No broken links!! Nothing will send a client away quicker than a site that doesn’t work.
        • Make sure your site isn’t internet-dependent, if you plan on walking around conventions or conferences and need to show it off!
  • Appearances
    • At conventions, conferences, etc — if you’re interested in networking, let people know where you’re going to be!
    • Past appearances: Do you have a talk that’s been recorded? Try and see if you can include a link to it.

Other things, like rates, can be included, though you can always opt to hide those or make them negotiable if you would rather not have a flat rate.

And, the biggest tip: Include only your best work. Employers and clients usually have limited time to make a decision, and won’t be scrolling through more than a few of your pieces before they decide whether or not they go further. Make a note on your calendar every 3 months to update your portfolio, and commit to keeping it up-to-date. Not only will the newer work hopefully be a better reflection of your current skill, but it also shows you’ve been continuously working, and are invested in your creative work. Just be careful not to include anything that may break a contract.

For visual artists, a mobile- and tablet-friendly solution is key. Though there are many sites and apps that are good ways to show your portfolio, comic artist, Hiveworks editor, and most importantly, my friend Sarah Stern suggests Minimal Folio for iOS ($3). It lets you display swipeable images — great for when you’re on the go and want an easy-to-use, sharp solution.

Your portfolio is going to be possibly your best resource for getting new work, so put the time into it that you put into yourself when interviewing and networking. And don’t be afraid to ask friends/industry peers for advice (if it’s someone you know well, or if someone offers), but keep to your own code, too. Not all advice will necessarily work for you!

Thank you to Sarah Stern for being a resource for me on this post!

The Job Search: Elements of a Good Online Presence, part 2: Social Media

Ah, social media. The modern double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be a great tool to get your name and your work out in the world, and can help establish you as an expert in your field. On the other, it can act as a permanent record, and is a window for employers into your personal life, your views on your work and your career, and your views on others.

Used well, social media can be productively incorporated into a job-hunting and career-building strategy. Below are my tips to create a cohesive social media brand to use professionally. This may not be appropriate for your field, or for how you want to use social media, so take them as guidelines I’ve found to be useful for keeping professional accounts.

Unify your avatar
Avatars and photo icons that represent your accounts are the visual window into who you are, and should be treated accordingly. In order to maximize your professional branding, I would use the same photo (preferably the one I advised you to take for LinkedIn in my last post) for your avatar/image across accounts: LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. This builds visible brand recognition, and those who might gloss over your name will remember your face wherever you post.

That being said, I’m going to take a moment to speak to the creatives, since it’s a bit of a different game for you. Avatars and site images can be a great way to show off your art, but again, I would use the same image across all sites. This can be updated every so often as your art style evolves and changes, but the important point is that it should be a clear example of who you are as a professional and what your style is.

Whatever the photo or image is, should be memorable (in a good way!) — my professional Twitter account has an image of me fighting a dinosaur, which, when I was pursuing a career in game localization, made me stand out in the community. I was known by high-level professionals in my industry as “the dinosaur girl” — undignified, but useful for branding and breaking the ice at professional networking mixers! I put the same image on my business card for GDC, the premiere U.S.-based game development conference for professionals, and it worked to link my professional work to my Twitter account, where, at the time, I was posting often about game localization. Whichever image you choose to use, make sure it is the same, and working for your branding.

Post often
Social media tends to have returns that stack depending on how much you use them. The most successful users on various platforms are those who post often and interact with others. Because of this, it’s best to focus on only a few social media channels, prioritizing the ones you know will work for you. It doesn’t matter how good Instagram is for your field if you hate using it — if you hate using it, you won’t, and there’s no point in worrying about a stagnant account you’ll never go back to. So choose the social media you like to use, and build a brand on that. Most now let you schedule posts, so if you can’t or don’t want to be online all day, you can schedule them in advance.

Become an expert
The best posts are ones that have to do with your field, and retweeting or reposting counts as endorsement from you (as long as it’s allowed on the site and you give due credit!). In fact, the general rule of thumb is to post 80% of the time about other’s work and 20% of your own; otherwise, you can risk sounding like a self-promoter (self-promotion in moderation is critical, but in excess may seem like you’re trying too hard/aren’t interested in making genuine connections).

Many professional conversations are taking place on social media, in Twitter hashtags, on LinkedIn, in blog comment threads, etc. The key point here is to keep your contributions professional: Be polite, inquisitive, and ready to learn. The internet can be a breeding ground for hate and disparagement and it can be tempting to get down and dirty with the worst of them, but using social media professionally should always be treated as a soft interview…because it is. Employers or clients may know you from the reputation for expertise you build on social media, so they may be considering you for potential jobs or partnerships you don’t even know about yet, or that aren’t public. You want to make sure you conduct yourself in a way that you’d be proud for a future employer to see. For me, this means I don’t swear on my professional Twitter — I try to keep it as clean as possible. However, I do retweet articles and discussions promoting women’s rights and gun control, because if someone doesn’t hire me on account of my raging feminism, that’s probably the best for all parties involved. Set out some guidelines for yourself at the start, and try to adhere to them as much as you can.

Know your limits
At some point, social media can start to detract from your professional life, especially after you’re hired and at a job which doesn’t involve being on social media. It can feel like you need to be posting to maintain your street cred, your “influence,” your follower count, etc. This can make you less productive at your job, and may make you look unprofessional, if you’re always on Twitter/Discord/Facebook/whatever when you should be on the clock.

Well, here’s a strong opinion from me: Social media is a constructed space, and as such, your performance within it can be structured as well. Take time off when you need to. Close accounts entirely, if it isn’t working for you. Be conscious of how much time you’re spending each day on social media, and ask yourself if that time could be spent on other, more important aspects of your life. Social media was created with seduction in mind (remember, these apps profit because of their large user base — they’re designed to keep you on them!) so you’ll have to define your own limits on what serves you and what does not.


As I said, social media is a double-edged sword, but if you set out with self-imposed guidelines, you’ll be able to use it (most of the time) to your advantage. And if it doesn’t serve you, don’t use it at all — your time should be spent in ways that benefit you, not just your reputation.